The 19th century can be seen as a watershed in gender relations and a new understanding of the role of women in society. In their works, the authors vividly portray transformations and changes in the consciousness of the people and new perceptions of the social environment. In the early 1800s, the church has tried to cope with that problem by announcing that unique explanations for general problems may have to be adapted to different localities and circumstances. The early 1800s was marked by opposition to traditional patriarchal roles and dominance of men in society and new roles of women as equal to men.
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The specific complications this difference produces in discussions of gender roles and social inequalities between the Liberation theologians influenced the religion. But they are an illustration of the theological and secular effects the difference in constituencies can have on the attitudes of the official church and the theologians. The conservatism of the religion was responsible for the incongruous practice of continuing to deal with 19th-century gender inequality in the manner it had not used for hundreds of years. This remained true even after it had, hypothetically, acknowledged a different quality in gender roles between that of the 18th and the 20th centuries. The second cause is seen in the inability of men and their sinful accumulation of an overabundance of worldly goods at the expense of the women and through their exploitation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” (Stanton). With remarkable stubbornness, the religion adhered to this line of argumentation, even while toward the end of the 19th century, it very slowly inaugurated another parallel line more reflective of a growing consciousness that a new society would need adaptations in its traditional teaching and political philosophy towards women.
By treating women’s position in society and social inequality as inevitable appurtenances of society as ordained by God, a conservative and tradition-minded religion obviated the need to become actively involved in the procedure leading to fundamental improvements. This notion served the religion and conservative oligarchies with which it was usually in collusion as opposing change in a system benefiting both parties, in the distribution of goods both possessed and in the aloof and paternalistic relationship prevailing between the religion and the women masses of the faithful. The issue was not raised whether the divine vision of a person’s fate in a future world could be realized without freedom from crushing gender inequalities and a recognition of women’s dignity in this world. In dealing with gender roles, the religion excluded an analysis of its social roots.
In their works, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth describe a new world of women and their importance as social members. These writers did not share the religious optimism that the members of the class could work themselves into a higher class or that the rich would balance class disadvantages by augmented charity. They expected the decreasing religiosity of modern societies to be permanent. The religious values still affecting the institutions of common life would be replaced by the laws of new gender perceptions and new roles, that is, value-free laws, with morality functioning in a separate section of women’s activity. Nor did they share the religious confidence in the occurrence and effectiveness of change to overcome the evils the religious revolution generated. “Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder” (Emerson). Altogether, the ideas of the 1800s believed strongly in the man-made nature of the new relations and, therefore, the possibility of man to undo them. At the same time, relations between religion and women, the interaction between political and social issues, and factionalism among believers were much more complex.
Following Waldo Emerson’s interpretation of “self-reliance,” I am a self-reliant person who is consistent and try to achieve self-realization in life. In the 21st century, the gender roles in society changed towards greater equality and equal rights, but women are still considered as weak gender that needs support and guardians. These views could not compete successfully with fast-growing feminist movements, foremost socialism, and the religion could counteract them with considerable efficiency. In the meantime, though, the delay cost the religion a heavy price in adherents and power, for which, especially in western countries, it is still paying today. Following Emerson: “For non-conformity, the world whips you with its displeasure.
And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face” (Emerson). Contemporaries and successors of men are less radical politically, but equally inspired by the prevailing feminism in developing their analyses. Many modem feminists address themselves mainly to the possible reconciliation between social roles and secular intellectual currents or to the political role of social agenda. A great number of individuals and groups all over the world could be found who shared these and similar views. Their appeals to make the modem religion more relevant to the plight of the workers go unheeded until almost the end of the 20th century. The relative failure of feminists at that time may have been due in part to their inability to join together and create an impressive comprehensive movement against oppression and segregation that could have made an impact, not only on fellow citizens or the men, but also the mass of the faithful.
Divine, G. et al America: Past and Present. Chapter 12. 7th edition Longman Higher Education; 3rd edition 1991.
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